Evaluation of the Head Start Designation Renewal System (DRS), 2012-2015

Project Overview

In the fall of 2011, the Office of Head Start (OHS) significantly expanded its accountability provisions with the establishment of the Head Start Designation Renewal System (DRS). In response to requirements in the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, the DRS is designed to determine whether Head Start and Early Head Start grantees are providing high quality comprehensive services to the children and families in their communities. Where they are not, grantees are denied automatic renewal of their grant and must apply for funding renewal through an open competition process. Determinations are based on seven conditions falling under three broader categories: service quality, licensing and operations, and fiscal and internal controls. In 2012, ACF awarded a contract to the Urban Institute (with subcontractor Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill) to conduct an evaluation of the DRS and examine how the system is meeting its goals of transparency, validity, reliability and, ultimately, overall program quality improvement. This evaluation study (1) examines the validity of the DRS and its sensitivity in differentiating lower performing programs from higher performing programs; and (2) examines the role of the DRS in improving quality in Head Start and Early Head Start, such as through competition for renewed funding (e.g., replacing lower performing grantees with higher performing grantees) and incentivizing quality improvement for all grantees, regardless of their participation in competitions for funding.

In particular, this study addresses the following research questions:

  • RQ1.        How effective is the DRS in identifying higher and lower quality Head Start grantees?
  • RQ2.        How have Head Start grantees understood and  responded to the provisions of the DRS in terms of their efforts to improve program operations and quality?
  • RQ3.        What does competition look like and how do programs respond in communities where Head Start grantees are designated for competition?

 The points of contact are Amy Madigan and Nina Hetzner.